It was fifty years ago on July 20 that astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins traveled to the moon, changing America forever and inspiring one of the most famous and often-quoted sentences ever spoken: If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they cure the common cold?
Oh ya, and there was that other one: That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. I like that one too. But, “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they cure the common cold” is quoted more often, especially by me. Plus, it has so many variations: If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make coffee that tastes as good as it smells…make cling wrap that doesn’t cling to itself…make bubblegum flavor that lasts all day?
You may think curing the common cold would be outside the purview of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and that they have more important things to do than trying to build a better bubblegum. But you have to admit, a good, hard sneeze in a space helmet could be problematic.
Plus, many products we use regularly here on earth evolved from items originally designed for space exploration. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but repurposing is her favorite child. (I say that as someone who regularly uses my shoe as both a hammer and a flyswatter.)
NASA scientists certainly didn’t set out to make swimsuits. But they used the same principles that reduce drag in space to help create what is called “the world’s fastest swimsuit” for Speedo. That’s a bold claim. It sounds like the swimsuit doesn’t even need a swimmer inside it. And on another note, I think a beach covered with a lot of people wearing Speedos might be best viewed from outer space. But I’m getting off track.
The CAT scanner was invented to find imperfections in space components. It’s now used to find imperfections in us—and as the punchline for countless dumb cat jokes.
It’s hard to get a workout in when you’re traveling and even more so when you’re traveling in space. Even going for a walk is a big deal, and there’s not a lot of room for workout equipment in a spaceship. Would you want to share such tight quarters with a lot of dumbbells?
But prolonged weightlessness causes loss of muscle and bone mass, much like when you lie on the couch watching infomercials all day. The special equipment that was designed to keep space travelers fit evolved into Bowflex, giving the earthbound yet another place to dry our laundry.
NASA asked Black & Decker to come up with special equipment the astronauts could use to collect samples because it would be a shame to go all that way and not pick up a few souvenirs. The equipment had to be compact and lightweight, and most importantly, it had to have its own power source because they couldn’t find an extension cord long enough to reach from NASA’s garage. The technology they created eventually led to a variety of cordless equipment including drills and vacuums, which is lucky because we can’t always find an extension cord here on earth either.
Many other products evolved from necessities created for space travel including memory foam mattresses, satellite television, freeze-dried food, water filters, trash compacters, scratch resistant lenses and smoke detectors with adjustable sensitivity levels to prevent false alarms. Apparently I don’t have one of those.
In light of all that, curing the common cold and making cling wrap that doesn’t cling to itself don’t seem like too much to ask. And by the way, astronauts have chewed gum in space, but as far as I know, it wasn’t bubblegum. I think they’re still working on that.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact email@example.com.)